COST DRIVERS ... As Palo Alto prepares to kick off its budget season later this month, the City Council's top 2019 priorities appear to be on a collision course. The council had directed staff to trim $4 million from the city's budget as part of an effort to control rising pension costs and address the city's "financial sustainability" priority for 2019. At the same time, the council is trying to make progress on its "transportation" and "climate change" priorities by launching new initiatives that reduce the number of cars on local streets — efforts that require new programs and additional investments. It doesn't help that City Hall continues to see significant vacancies in its transportation division, which remains without a leader, and in its parking operation, which has a single staff member managing the city's messy hodgepodge of custom-built, neighborhood-specific Residential Preferential Parking programs. The council's Finance Committee will try to reconcile the competing priorities of saving money and reducing traffic on Tuesday, when it considers funding for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), the nonprofit charged with giving downtown employees incentives to not drive. The nonprofit has requested that the city either maintain the $480,000 contribution from 2019 or increase it by 50 percent, to $720,000. The funding would allow the agency to remove between 200 and 337 cars daily, according to a letter from the TMA. On the bright side, the city is now getting some assistance for its traffic-fighting efforts from outside sources. Facebook and Palantir have contributed a combined $100,000 to expand the TMA's programs to California Avenue earlier this year. Palo Alto is participating in a pilot program funded by a $1 million federal grant that seeks to shift city employees from cars to other modes of transportation.
STAYING THE COURSE ... When the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority released its proposed New Transit Service Plan in January, many riders expressed concern over potential cuts to Line 22, which runs between the Palo Alto Transit Center and Eastridge Transit Center in San Jose via El Camino Real. The agency considered cutting hourly runs from 1-4 a.m. After community outreach and ridership analysis over the past few months, the VTA decided to continue overnight service as many use the bus for mobility needs rather than shelter. The line has been nicknamed "Hotel 22," where homeless people have boarded to sleep on the bus rather than on the streets. The agency planned to increase service in the morning and evenings from 20 to 15 minutes on Line 522, spanning the same distance as Line 22, which staff is now proposing to maintain the same level of service.
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